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Supplies For Those Recovering From Earthquake In Indonesia Are Coming, But Slowly


In Indonesia, the death toll from the earthquake and tsunami is nearing 2,000 people. Many others are still missing. Supplies are coming into the disaster zone but very slowly. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports on the bottleneck at a damaged airport in Palu.


LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Farm animals, family photos - evacuees brought all they could manage when they sought refuge at Palu's airport after the earthquake and tsunami hit.

TASNI DEGE MAJALA: (Speaking Bahasa).

FRAYER: "We said, let's just get to the airport. They'll have supplies there. It'll be the safest place," recalls Tasni Dege Majala, one of hundreds camping out on the lawn in front of the terminal. The Palu airport has become a refuge in addition to being a staging ground for supplies some survivors say have been slow to reach them. Local officials were on the defensive today. Military and government leaders stood shoulder to shoulder in front of the runway telling reporters how much aid has been delivered despite tough conditions.

JEAN ANES: Well, the biggest challenge for the time being is that it is so isolated.

FRAYER: Jean Anes from the Indonesian Foreign Ministry says Palu is a relatively small city with a relatively small airport. Its air traffic control tower collapsed in the earthquake. Some commercial flights are landing now, but the majority are from the military.

I'm looking into the back hatch of a C-130 transport plane that has just landed on the runway at Palu airport. Soldiers are quickly unloading huge piles of steel beams, it looks like, crates of water and shuttling them onto trucks on the runway.

Enggal, who goes by one name, is an Indonesian Air Force pilot who's been flying two roundtrip flights a day to Palu ferrying injured people out and supplies in. He says landing planes here is no simple task. Palu airport sits in a narrow valley between towering volcanic ridges.

ENGGAL: You can see the terrain along the runway.

FRAYER: We're surrounded by mountains.

ENGGAL: Yeah, mountainous area.

FRAYER: It makes it difficult to land your plane?

ENGGAL: A little.

FRAYER: Yeah. It's windy here.


FRAYER: That's a factor for you?

ENGGAL: Yeah. It's not calm wind for us (laughter).

FRAYER: Soldiers pass crates along a human chain from the C-130 to flatbed trucks idling alongside the runway. There are diapers, disinfectant, clothing. The trucks don't have to go far to find needy people camped out on the airport grounds.

WIWIN: (Speaking Bahasa).

FRAYER: A woman named Wiwin who also goes by just one name sits on a blanket weeping.

WIWIN: (Speaking Bahasa).

FRAYER: Her neighborhood was almost completely submerged in mud. She shows me scrapes on her legs she got while fleeing. Seven of her relatives perished, including her daughter and her sister.

WIWIN: (Speaking Bahasa).

FRAYER: She's upset that the government plans to stop searching for bodies by the end of the week. Her house is buried in mud. She has nowhere to go. There are tens of thousands of people like her in this region struggling with how to move forward. For the government, accelerating aid into damaged areas may be the easy part. But rebuilding this city and recovering from these twin catastrophes will take years. Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Palu, Indonesia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.
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